Whether you realize it or not, research conducted in a variety of industries impacts your daily lives. From the newest cell phone technology to the food you eat, the fruits of thousands of hours of research efforts touches all aspects of your life.
When it comes to agriculture, research plays an important role in ensuring American agriculture remains a competitive leader and is positioned to address the world’s growing needs. Investments in agricultural research have led to exceptional gains in productivity over the years but to remain competitive we need investments in research. One of those main investments needs to be in people. We need an educated workforce ready to tackle tomorrow’s agricultural challenges. Who will be doing this work, you might ask? Maybe you or someone you know. There are many opportunities in agriculture research that may interest you as a career path.
If you’re watching a sci-fi movie and are more interested in the cool looking plants (Feed me, Seymour!) than the romantic lead, a future in plant breeding may be up your alley. Plant breeders are responsible for researching different seed characteristics that may be beneficial to a plant. Breeders work on developing the best traits that are most desirable for yield performance, maturity, quality, size and are resistant to factors such as drought and pests. Some of the responsibilities of a plant breeder include the ability to develop and manage a breeding program schedule, conduct technical interaction with marketers and end-users and use new technologies such as Global Positioning Systems.
If you like to dive deeper into specific areas of research, then a research associate position might interest you. Every day, seed companies are trying to improve various aspects of a seed so that it performs better for farmers. Research associates perform and document research trials on a particular trait and then provide that data to the plant breeder to develop a new hybrid. Research associates also try to improve the process by lowering costs, giving higher number of data points for the breeders to analyze and they also can identify if a certain part of a gene is present or not. Plant breeders use the information provided by the research associate to make decisions on how best to produce that gene in a new hybrid. In a seed company, research associates work in many different areas of the company including trait and technology development, process improvement, product characterization, regulatory science, compliance and more.
As an agricultural scientist you’ll spend your days in the field, lab and greenhouse studying the DNA of a plant to look for ways a particular gene makes one plant perform better than another. Work will include taking measurements on plant growth traits, conducting greenhouse experiments under controlled conditions and lab work on a smaller scale. You’ll try to identify which genes are present that are helping a particular plant perform better. You’ll also investigate different characteristics such as drought tolerance and how you can increase yields so farmers have better production results. As the world’s climate continues to change, agricultural scientists need to have an understanding of the environment and its impact on plants.
Soil is the foundation for the food we eat – whether it’s a plant or an animal. A soil scientist contributes toward food production by investigating the best ways to keep soil healthy. These professionals collect soil samples to conduct surveys, recommend soil management practices, advise others on the capabilities and limitations of a particular area of land based on the soil traits and evaluate nutrient and water availability, among others.
Were you the little kid walking down the path stopping to see each little bug you encountered? Maybe you were the first to be willing to pick up an insect and see it crawl across your skin. If so, entomology could be for you. An entomologist is a type of scientist who focuses specifically on the study of insects. They examine growth, behavior, nutrition and how they interact with plants. As part of their work, they design and implement research plans to support the selection of new insecticide products. Part of your daily responsibilities would include monitoring insect feeding behavior and insect feeding biology, visiting farms and other research trial plots to collect insect samples and monitoring application of experimental and commercial insecticides to targeted pests and their habitats, among others. Entomologists work with these sometimes quirky insects so you need to have a willingness to try ideas, have patience, and the ability to think outside of the box.
Microbiologists look at the small organisms that can affect plant health. Professionals in this career analyze soil, crop or food samples to identify if microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi viruses and parasites are present. Part of their work is to monitor the growth of these organisms and how they affect various parts of the plant.
For students currently in high school, be sure to take classes associated with science such as biology, chemistry and physics, as well as mathematics, business and computer science. Many of these positions require a bachelors degree in crop science, plant genetics or agronomy. In many cases a PhD or masters of science in plant science is also required. Participate in as many labs and research trials as you can. For some positions such as an entomologist you’ll be required to have a specific degree such as one in entomology, biology or zoology related to that work. Education also includes mentoring. If you’re currently in the agriculture field, what can you do to spark an interest in agriculture careers to those upcoming students around you? Maybe it’s attending career fairs or giving presentations to local high school classes. The effort you put forth today to help secure a workforce for agriculture could mean the difference between meeting the world’s needs and not meeting them.
The world’s population is projected to grow to 9.8 billion people by 2050. With an increased need for food and fuel, the agriculture industry has a daunting task in front of it to meet those growing needs. According to a 2015 United State Department of Agriculture study, there are nearly 60,000 high-skilled agriculture job openings expected annually but only half that amount of available graduates to fill them. The outlook for careers in agriculture is bright, particularly with the growing world needs. Research jobs will be at the forefront of meeting these needs.
- Five Reasons Why Youth Should Choose Agriculture
- Importance of Agriculture Research
- Day in the Life of a Pioneer Research Associate
- A Day with an Entomologist
- Oregon State University Extension Entomologist – Wine Virus Spread by Insects
- Science Careers – A day in the work life of an agricultural/horticultural scientist (entomologist)
- A look at an agricultural scientist
- Day in the life of a soil scientist
- Careers in Soil Science